“So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And walked off to look for America.”
America…Simon and Garfunkel
It’s time for my annual migration to Florida and warmer climes. The late fall and early winter weather in the Colorado mountains has been positively pleasing, allowing extra sunny days to explore remote canyons and chase wild trout. But now the cold is seeping in, so I get ready to hightail it to the subtropics.
I like to take the back roads when pulling my travel trailer (aka mobile fish camp) on the long 2,000+ mile journey, avoiding the big trucks roaring by on the interstates with their big backwash that sets my rig to swerving back and forth on the hitch. Anyway, it’s lots more fun, relaxing, and enlightening to get off the straight-as-an arrow highways and see the real America. Back in the 60’s the Simon and Garfunkel tune “America” was my generation’s anthem….they’ve all gone to look for America. I continue to do so. More and more it seems like a country and place I don’t always understand. When I served as a city councilman in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the 80s I always felt that if citizens got the facts they would eventually make the right common-sense decisions in the country’s and fellow American’s best interests. Now I am not so sure. But each year I come away from my peregrinations around the country feeling hopeful, optimistic. So here we go…
“Nothing Makes A Fish Bigger Than Almost Being Caught!”
December 30, 2017
Some of my cheeky friends accuse me of being a tad balmy for my dedication to piscatorial pursuits. Just to confirm these suspicions, I decided this last week of 2017 to take advantage of balmy weather in Colorado’s Banana Belt to chase trout several times in the Big Ark River around Salida, Colorado.
Locals use the term “Banana Belt” somewhat tongue-in-cheek. At an elevation of some 7,500 feet, Salida admittedly does not have tropical or even subtropical weather any time of year. But in truth, it is a remarkably warm high mountain valley when compared to surrounding alpine communities–Fairplay, Gunnison, Saguache–just over the passes to the north, west, and south. They are truly frigid! Indeed, this past couple of weeks we have been just as warm in Salida, and often much warmer, than mile-high Denver. The temps pushed 60 degrees several times. That’s not to say the fishing is a snap. Some tips follow that may put a big rainbow trout or brown on your line before winter really arrives.
“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not the fish they are after.” Henry David Thoreau
December 19, 2017
The Ice Man Cometh this weekend sayeth the weatherman….so time to sneak away for one last outing in the water and dances with trout. With 50 degree weather and light winds in the forecast, I decide to visit my home water, the Arkansas River just upstream from Salida. I know a stretch where the valley is broad and the sunshine plentiful, even in winter, and hopefully the fish cooperative.
When I arrive at just after noon after a short 15-minute drive from my cabin, I am treated to a picture-perfect scene, abundant sunshine, and no ice flow on the river. Two weeks ago several nights of single digit temperatures had clogged up the water with ice, but now it’s flowing freely, at least for a couple of more days.
I used that spate of cold weather profitably, hunkering down inside with the fireplace going to tie up a bunch of my favorite fly pattern for the upcoming season—a concoction I created called a green hotwire beadhead caddis. Naturally, it’s a simple tie—I am no Rembrandt at the fly-tying vise. But it works, and how!!
I wade into one of my familiar reliable pools, the water frigid despite wearing three pairs of socks underneath my neoprene waders. On my third cast the little yellow yarn strike indicator, below which dangle two nymphs, hesitates ever so slightly. I lift my rod slowly and it’s FISH ON! Just a little brownie, but a good start. No skunk for me on this final 2017 outing.
For the next hour or so, I have a ball laying out long casts over the crystal clear water. At the end of the year fly casting becomes so natural, so easy, so graceful that it’s a treat in itself to watch the line unfurl, and the tiny flies alight delicately on the water exactly where the cast was aimed. A bonus is hooking an occasional trout. The first half-dozen are small (all on the beadhead caddis except for one on a big stonefly nymph), but then a nice 14-inch brown surprises me by nailing the caddis in a shallow, fast mid-stream run where the fish are not supposed to be this time of year.
Usually they retreat to deeper pools where the slow-moving water is warmer. Then if to prove the point, 15 minutes later an even bigger, stronger 15-inch rainbow gobbles the caddis nymph in a deeper hole off the main current.
As I release the shiny beauty, I take a seat on the bank and reflect on what a wonderful world we have and what a wonderful year 2017 has been thanks to family, friends, and yes, fish. Great gifts and a refuge in turbulent times. My little sweetheart of a granddaughter, Aly, went from baby to toddler in a flash, and along the way exhibited a strong predilection for running water and playing in creeks. Sure way to grandpa’s heart!!
I have had many great adventures in the wilds this year, alone and with friends. Solitude and pristine nature abounded and surrounded me, kept me peaceful and sane. It has been written that fishing is a perpetual series of occasions of hope, elusive but attainable. And so it is with life. 2017 has been a wonderful year, and I see hope on the water and in the world for 2018. My best to all my readers, compatriots, and friends for the New Year. Here is a tribute to 2017 in pictures….indeed a wonderful world!!
Two backcountry kayak fishing trips in December led me to settle on a New Year’s Resolution: I will seek a balance in all things between exploring the new and cherishing the old and familiar in my life.
There is little that excites me as much as exploring new waters, especially in remote pristine wild areas. What’s around that next bend in the lake or what is lurking in that alluring dark hole in the mangrove tunnel at the S-curve in the creek? The lightly traveled Fakahatchee River that springs from the Everglades near the Tamiami Trail then wends its way to the Gulf of Mexico is a perfect example. The put-in point is just across the road from a popular tourist site—a recreated Seminole Village with thatched roof huts. It is one of the few backcountry creeks I haven’t paddled. Indeed, I have never seen a vehicle or boats at the clearing in the mangroves where you can launch a kayak. Why? The answer seems to be captured in Jeff Ripple’s Kayaking Guide to the Everglades in which he warns this is the toughest, most challenging route in his excellent book.
Yesterday I was out in the Everglades backcountry on my annual pre-Thanksgiving anticipatory calorie reduction kayak trip. It was a beautiful day—sunny sky, and the wind hadn’t kicked up yet. I was gliding over the crystal clear, copper-tinged water with a smile on my face. But like every fishing/kayak trip this past week, something was gnawing at me. It didn’t feel right to be enjoying myself so much and soaking in the wonderful gifts of nature all around me when there seemed to be so much hurt, so much evil in the world around us. In France, in Mali, in Lebanon common folk like me were suffering terrible pain at the hands of misguided zealots from ISIS and other fanatics.